Go big or go home, the old saying goes, and Miguel Gomes is certainly living up to that with “Arabian Nights.” Gomes will hit the Cannes Directors’ Fortnight with his six-hour triptych and despite the title, this isn’t all camels and elaborate costuming (though there’s a fair amount of that too).
Nearly fifteen minutes of footage has arrived in the form of three lengthy clips, and it puts front and center both the beautiful visuals Gomes has put together, and the film’s weighty thematic concerns. Here’s the full synopsis:
Volume 1, The Restless One
In which Scheherazade tells of the restlessness that befell the country: “It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that in a sad country among all countries, where people dream of mermaids and whales, unemployment spreads. In certain places, forests burn into the night despite the falling rain; men and women long to set out to sea in the middle of Winter. Sometimes there are animals that talk although it is highly improbable that they are listened to. In this country, where things are not what they appear to be, men of power promenade on camels and hide permanent and shameful erections; they await the moment when taxes are collected so they can pay a certain wizard whom…”. And seeing the morning break, Scheherazade fell silent.
Volume 2, The Desolate One
In which Scheherazade tells of how desolation invaded men: “It hath reached me, O auspicious King, that a distressed Judge will cry instead of giving out her sentence on a night when all three moons are aligned. A runaway murderer will wander through the land for over forty days and will teletransport himself to escape the Guard while dreaming of prostitutes and partridges. A wounded cow will reminisce about a thousand-year-old olive tree while saying what she must say, which will sound none less than sad! The residents of a tower block in the suburbs will save parrots and piss inside lifts while surrounded by dead people and ghosts; including in fact a dog that…”. And seeing the morning break, Scheherazade fell silent. “Damned tales! If things continue this way my daughter will surely end up with her throat slit!” – the Grand-Vizier, Scheherazade’s father, thinks in his palace in Bagdad.
Volume 3, The Enchanted One
In which Scheherazade doubts that she will still be able to tell stories to please the King, given that what she has to tell weighs three thousand tonnes. She therefore escapes from the palace and travels the Kingdom in search of pleasure and enchantment. Her father, the Grand-Vizier, arranges to meet her at the Ferris wheel, and Scheherazade resumes her narration: “Auspicious King, in old shanty towns of Lisbon there was a community of bewitched men who, in all rigour and passion, dedicated themselves to teaching birds to sing…”. And seeing the morning break, Scheherazade fell silent.
The trio of movies will start screening next week at Cannes, so look for our verdict once we’ve seen them all. Check out the new clips below.